Laura E. Sanchez
The 2014 legislative session is history, adjourning at noon on Feb. 20. Like many previous short sessions, it was a race to the finish on certain bills, while others languished in committees, held hostage by committee chairs in some cases but, more often, falling victim to the ticking clock.
This year was a budget session, which means legislators were obliged to adopt a budget for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. Bills introduced also had to be germane to the budget or the state’s financial matters. Any not related to the budget had to receive a message from the governor as a priority before legislators could act on it. To add to the challenges, two Democrats in the House were out sick the entire session, jeopardizing the already slim margin of 37 to 33 – and leading to a 35-33 split. With such a razor-thin margin, it was all hands on deck for both sides of the aisle, and already close committees were sometimes split evenly down party lines. This resulted in different dynamics among the parties and very few bills passed along party lines alone. Sometimes it meant strange bedfellows, but then this is New Mexico politics.
Bills are typically assigned to two committees in each house after being first- and second-read onto their respective chamber floors. The bills must pass both committees to be considered by all the members of the house of origination, and then be approved, in order for the other house to consider the bill. Only bills that make it all the way through both House and Senate will end up on the governor’s desk for signing. The New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce supported several bills this session. Among them were: SB09 (Papen) One-Stop Business Portal; HB124 (C. Trujillo) Home Energy and Water Efficiency; HB136 (J. Trujillo) Electric Vehicle Tax Credit, and HB233 (Dodge) / HB304 (Brown) / SB191 (Griego) Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit. Most of these bills made it out of two committees. Only HB136, the Electric Vehicle Tax Credit, made it all the way through the House, but it was not calendared in the Senate Finance Committee. We also supported a variety of bills that increased support for investment in the high tech industry in New Mexico. Among these bills were SB59 (Keller) Tech Commercialization Gross Receipts, SB99 (Padilla) Investment in Tech Research Collaborative, and SB114 (Griego) Angel Investment Tax Credit. Unfortunately, none of these bills made it out of their first committee.
Of all the NMGCC supported bills, only one, Senate President Pro Tem Papen’s SB9 One-Stop Business Portal, made it all the way through both houses and is waiting to be signed by the governor. This bill directs the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) to develop and maintain a web site that is free, user-friendly, searchable and accessible to the public in order to conduct certain business transactions electronically. The site is required to provide a single point of entry that allows users to access taxation information, make taxation filings and payments, access workers’ compensation information and make related payments. Business users would also be able to complete and submit applications for licenses, registrations, permits and other documents issued by state agencies that are required for the transaction of business in New Mexico. The site could help users communicate with customer service representatives during regular business hours, and access the New Mexico Sunshine Portal. The governor has until March 12 to sign legislation. Any not signed by this date will be deemed pocket-vetoed.
One notable measure for New Mexico businesses and employees from this session was the almost successful passing of the Minimum Wage Constitutional Amendment. The measure, SJR13, passed the entire Senate and also passed the House Voters & Elections Committee, its only assigned committee in the House. The measure came up on the floor of the House on Feb. 19, and after much impassioned debate failed on a 33-29 vote. It needed a majority of the members, or 36, to pass the House, in order to go on to the voters in November. Another important mention is SM36, a Senate memorial sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, regarding the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge. The memorial asked our New Mexico congressional delegation, the US Department of Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to work toward restoring funding and acquiring the remaining property for the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge located in Bernalillo County.
While this short session was disappointing in terms of passing our proactive bills, the good news is that we also did not lose ground on any existing tax-credit programs that most help our member businesses. We look forward to working on defending existing policies and expanding others to support local business, sustainable practices, renewable energy and the economic benefit of public land protection in the 2015 session.